- As Delivered –
WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following remarks on reproductive and maternal health needs of women refugees at a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) event on Capitol Hill marking World Refugee Day:
“Well, thank you, thank you Sarah. Thank you for that wonderful introduction. I’m fresh off the House floor, giving my speech with no microphone. It’s great to have one. So, my voice doesn’t have to be hoarse anymore.
“And you know, what we’re going through is pretty brutal, but unfortunately it compares to, to nothing that you have all come into contact with and the good work that all of you do around the world.
“So, thanks to the United Nations Population Fund, the High Commissioner for Refugees and the UN, UN Foundation for the work you do. Thank you. It does so much to transform lives of refugees, and people around the world. And when all is said and done, isn’t that the best thing that we can do here on Earth?
“Civil wars in Yemen and South Sudan, political violence in Burundi, the scourge of Barah Hara, Boko Haram across Eastern Africa, ISIS atrocities and Assad’s war crimes in Syria and Iraq. These are just some of the reasons why 65 million people have been displaced and, and forced to flee their home.
“In particular, the crisis in Syria has displaced half of Syria’s pre-war population. Fleeing ISIS and Assad’s crimes against humanity, many of Syria’s nearly five million refugees have sought safe haven in neighboring countries such as Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, while others have made the perilous journey to Europe.
“My phone has not rung all day, but the minute I get into this meeting you can count on it. And it’s my wife. I won’t answer it because the first three words are going to be: ‘where are you?’
“Since March 2011, we’ve heard stories that shed light on the harsh realities for, facing refugees from Syria and those still internally displaced: damaging psychological effects, limited access to education, sanitation, and adequate nutrition.
“I’ve been talking about this since the Syrian Civil War started. I havejust found this to be unbelievable and the fact that the world stands by and does nothing except exacerbate the situation just really makes me froth at the mouth. It’s just a terrible, terrible situation.
“And as we often see in conflict, some of the hardest hit have been women and girls—particularly expecting mothers. Millions of women and girls of reproductive age live under perilous conditions in Syria, and nearly half a million of these women are pregnant. Imagine being a pregnant woman in Syria today.
“These women are exposed to disease, trauma, violence and malnutrition. And as a result, Syria’s maternal mortality rate has risen by nearly 40 percent since 2011.
“And the situation is heartbreaking. But, organizations like UNFPA continue to give us hope.
“UNFPA works tirelessly to reverse these trends by providing women with quality sexual and reproductive health services and psychosocial support across Syria and bordering nations. And it’s important. You know, people don’t really want to say that word, but it’s an important word. And it’s something that we have to come to grips with.
“We can’t be ostriches and put our heads in the sand and pretend it doesn’t happen. We don’t mention it. We have to mention reproductive health. We have to mention sexual health services. Because, otherwise we’re, we are doing these women a terrible disservice.
“During the month of May alone, UNFPA supported more than 10,000 deliveries within Syria—including more than 4,000 Caesarian sections.
“And while UNFPA’s work on maternal health is remarkable, that’s just part of the organization’s incredible mission.
“It also advocates against gender-based violence—which has spiked in Syria over the past five years, as it always does, unfortunately, in armed conflict. And just last month, you’ve helped more than 7,000 Syrian women with services including case management, psycho-social support, and legal aid. And while the suffering these women have endured cannot be undone, UNFPA does help these survivors shape a new beginning.
“So these are the stories that the photos around you tell. They are the stories of men, women and children whose lives have been upended by a conflict they have no power to control. They are also stories of the fortitude of the human spirit and individual strength in the face of unimaginable adversity.
“Today, we honor these survivors and so many others who have seen the worst of humanity, but still demonstrate the best of humanity. We honor the work of organizations like UNFPA and the UN Foundation, which help shape a new way forward for those affected. And we honor the work of the United States—which I proudly champion—as the largest humanitarian donor in Syria.
“I can tell you though in these past five years or so, I’ve met with more Syrian groups than, than any other people. And they’re aware of what we’re doing. They’re appreciative of what we’re doing. And my heart just breaks every time that I talk to them.
“So as we mark World Refugee Day, we cannot forget that these 65 million who have been forced to flee their homes live with this dark reality every single day. When you see what they have gone through, it really just makes you say, ‘why am I complaining?’ You know, if I’m late for work in the morning, or just traffic jam or the weather is bad, or I don’t feel well, or I wish I had more money. It’s nothing. Nothing compared to what these people go through.
“So I want to thank all of you for your tireless focus on this challenge. We need to keep helping these people and you have my pledge that I will continue to work with you. And thank you again for the wonderful, wonderful work that you’re doing.
“And it’s so good to see so many people here this evening. It’s really, really great. I’ve been sitting on the House floor all day. So, I don’t know—we’re trying to make a point there as well. You know, where its, whether its refugees or gun violence or all the other things that we, that we have to bear with. It’s good to know that there are people like you that care. People like you that are willing put your money where your mouth is. And people like you that are willing to put your time and effort and energy where your mouth is.
“So, thank you for doing it. I’ll always be your partner and we’re going to continue to work together. It’s going to take a while, take a long time. But, we’re going to, we’re going to make Syria better. We just, to do anything else and to leave it the way it is, would be just unconscionable.
“So thanks again and sorry I have to run in and run out, but I really wanted to be here. Thank you.“